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Last updated on November 25th, 2023.

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to a student’s ability to use scholarships for online courses. Some will claim that you can never use scholarships for online coursework. Others will say that such scholarships are impossible to find or ultra-competitive to get if you can find them. With all these conflicting opinions, it can be hard to get a straight answer to if you can use scholarships for online courses in the first place!

While the stipulations governing the use of each scholarship will be unique, if certain requirements are met, there is usually no prohibition on using scholarship funds for online courses. To ensure this, look for accredited online programs that terminate in a degree.

Of course, things aren’t always quite so easy, and there is still more to know about using scholarships for online courses. Knowing what details to look for, such as minimum GPA requirements, can save students plenty of time and heartbreak later. So, be sure to read on below as we discuss all the details you need to know about different types of scholarships, how to apply for them, what websites to use for your scholarship search, when to start applying, and more!

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What is a College Scholarship?

When it comes to paying for college (or almost any educational expense), a scholarship is just one possible source of funds. A student may choose to pay for their education by taking out a loan, borrowing money from a family member, relying on financial aid and scholarships, or any combination of the above.

College scholarships are unique in that they normally must be applied for—though some can be awarded automatically for qualifying students from their institutions based on merit or other criteria. Scholarships also can come in a variety of sizes and methods, from stipends for books or housing to grants that can range in size from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Best of all, scholarships needn’t be repaid, making them the best choice for financially conscious students.

Check out this article on affordable online colleges.

What Types of Scholarships are Available?

The good news for students looking for scholarships is that there have never been more opportunities to earn one. These scholarships can come in various types, with some sort of grant available for students of almost any background or need.

  • Academic Scholarships: The most common type of scholarship is an academic scholarship. These are normally granted to students automatically by their institutions for maintaining a minimum academic standard. Some academic scholarships will need to be applied for separately on an annual basis. Looking outside your own institution for smaller scholarships may lessen the competition you have to compete with.
  • Athletic Scholarships: Do you have a knack for sports? If you’re good enough, your love for athletics may end up paying off big time in the form of an athletic scholarship. While these scholarships are highly competitive, they often go further than covering just the cost of tuition, with stipends for meals and books available as well. So, if you’re a high achiever in athletic pursuits, it may be worth following the path to college athletics and a scholarship!
  • Community Scholarships: One of the most overlooked sources of scholarships is those that are available to everyone in your local community. These are scholarships that can be offered by your local school district, businesses, civic groups, and more. One example would be your local representatives, congressional offices at both the state and federal level often have scholarships available for constituents, and competition for such grants can often be scarce.
  • Extracurricular Scholarships: Somewhat similar to an athletic scholarship above, an extracurricular scholarship may reward you for excellence in pursuits outside of sports. This can be anything from excellence in a musical instrument to participating in the local chapter of a national organization. 
  • Identity-Based Scholarships If you can claim almost any gender, race, religion, or persuasion, you can probably find an affiliated group with a scholarship that caters to your community. These awards can likely be renewed, are often less competitive, and are some of the most generous around.
  • Employer or Military Scholarships: These scholarships differ from the others in that they are earned more directly, either through service to your country or as a benefit from your employer.

Is it Safe to Apply for Scholarships Online?

While you should always be wary when providing any personal details online, in general, applying to scholarships online is perfectly secure. When applying to scholarships online, be sure to keep the following in mind:

  • Be aware of scams: There are a lot of students out there that are desperate for help paying for their education, unfortunately, there is also an entire industry that has sprung up to take advantage of this desperation. For this reason, only work with trusted partners and never give out sensitive personal information.
  • Never pay “application fees”: Any scholarship that charges application or administrative fees are likely a scam. As a general rule, students should never have to pay to apply or find scholarships. The one exception is if you are partnering with a college counselor who is helping you find scholarships in addition to other college admissions assistance.
  • Shady organizations: Do your due diligence before applying for any scholarships. Can you easily find out more about this organization online? Are they accredited through any third-party websites? Be sure to check them out to the best of your ability, and if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Unclear requirements: If the requirements for a potential scholarship are unclear or non-existent, be careful, this can be a tell-tale sign of a “scammy” scholarship provider. Real scholarships will always have straightforward requirements or criteria that are necessary for consideration.
  • Be careful before sharing any financial information: Before sharing any private or personally identifying information, be sure to know for yourself who will be receiving it, how it will be securely transmitted, where it may be shared, what they want, and why they want it. This is especially true if you are applying for a scholarship and an organization can’t gain access to your information through regular channels such as your FAFSA profile—this can be a tell-tale sign of a scholarship scam.

Finally, if a “guaranteed scholarship” is ever being offered to you by an organization that can’t access your financial aid profile, be very wary indeed, as this could very well be a scam. Next, we will look at how your GPA can affect scholarship opportunities.

What GPA Do You Need to Get a Scholarship?

In general, most scholarships are designed to reward academic excellence, progress, or other achievements. This means that many will have stringent GPA thresholds that mean a student has to have a 3.0 GPA or above. Don’t stress if this doesn’t match your academic profile, however, as there are plenty of scholarships that specify no minimum GPA. Some scholarships funds will use different criteria to select their recipients entirely, such as need.

Don’t worry if you won’t have the grades to qualify for some scholarships, there are plenty of awards for students that, for whatever reason, don’t have a sterling academic record but who are nonetheless committed to further academic pursuits.

What is the Best Website to Apply for Scholarships?

The number of websites dedicated to helping students find scholarships has proliferated in the recent past. While this means there are now more quality scholarship finders available than ever, it also means that it is harder than ever to recognize what the best websites for finding scholarships are. Luckily, the hard work has been done for you, with our three favorite picks for scholarship websites below:

  • Scholarships One of the oldest and best websites for finding scholarships, simply input a few criteria, and you’ll receive a list of matching scholarships that you can apply for.
  • Collegeboard Another great scholarship finder website is this one from the College Board, which most students are probably already familiar with from their other academic products—such as the AP board or SAT. The best part is the website can use information you’ve already provided via your profile to help find scholarships you might be a good match for.
  • Listscholarship This website has a broader focus than the above two, with the availability to look for scholarships outside of the US college market and at global opportunities as well.

Of course, the problem with all the websites listed above is that they are open and available to anyone. That means that the competition for some of the scholarships can be fierce. So, if you’re looking for the best website for scholarships for you personally, start by looking locally. Check out scholarship options provided by your local high school, college, the department your major is in, community foundations, and other local sources for scholarships that are often less competitive to attain.

When Should You Start Applying for Scholarships?

The short answer is to start applying for scholarships now! The sooner you begin applying, the more you can apply to, the more awards you can possibly get, and the more money you can save on your educational expenses. And remember, every dollar you earn from a scholarship is one you won’t have to borrow or pay it back later. If you are a high school junior, start looking for scholarships as soon as possible.

Are you a younger student or someone looking for help paying ancillary costs associated with your education? The good news is that there are plenty of scholarship options that can help defray education expenses beyond the typical college-focused ones. Finding these can be more difficult, be sure to talk to your school’s social worker or guidance counselor—a financial aid office is even better at helping if there is one.

The Final Word: Utilizing Scholarships for Online Courses

There you have it, almost everything you could possibly want to know about utilizing scholarships for online courses. We discussed different types of scholarships, how best to look for them, some requirements to be aware of, and potential warning signs of scam scholarship providers. As you can probably tell, there is a lot to consider on the subject. We hope this brief primer has helped to demystify the process, and as always, thanks for reading!

Think we missed something? Want more details? Feel free to reach out! We are always here to help.

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